By Adriane Dorr
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison spoke in defense of religion and conscience before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in a Capitol Hill hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Expressing concern over the Jan. 20 U.S. Health and Human Services ruling regarding health-insurance plans and the recently required coverage of contraceptives, Harrison said, "We confess there are two realms: the church and state. They shouldn't be mixed. The church is governed by the Word of God, the state by natural law and reason, the Constitution."
Harrison was accompanied to the nation's Capitol by the Rev. John T. Pless, who teaches theological ethics and is an assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., as well as Ann Stillman, vice-president and general counsel for Concordia Plan Services (the Synod's health plan for church workers).
On Friday, Feb. 10, the Obama administration revised the initial health-care ruling, allowing exemptions for non-profit religious organizations. Still, Harrison said, "Religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government. "Along with other religious leaders — the Most Reverend William E. Lori of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dr. C. Ben Mitchell of Union University, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University and Dr. Craig Mitchell of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — Harrison denounced the violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience caused by the ruling.
"While we are opposed in principle — not to all forms of birth control, but only abortion-causing drugs," Harrison said, "we stand with our friends in the Catholic Church and all others, Christians and non-Christians, under the free exercise and conscience provisions of the U.S. Constitution."
"The conscience is a sacred thing," he said. "To paraphrase Martin Luther, the heart and conscience has room only for God, not for God and the federal government."
Harrison also outlined America's historic tradition of uplifting and maintaining religious freedom. "I've traveled all over the world, to 40 or 50 countries or more," he said. "Every time I return home, I want to kiss the ground because of the blessings we enjoy in this country. I will stand personally for … the rights of every single person. I will give my sons … up to fight for this country and sacrifice everything I have for the sake of guaranteeing the rights of every single citizen in this country."
Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) thanked Harrison for his passion on the topic, noting, "Martin Luther would appreciate your intensity."
Harrison also fielded questions from the committee. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) asked for clarification regarding the church's participation in the government's health-care mandate. "The government spends your tax dollars involuntarily," he said, "but you recognize that's separate from telling you, you must take part in it directly."
"It's been said that Caesar must be given no less than what is Caesar's, but no more, either," Harrison responded. "We participate by paying our taxes, in every aspect of society. We participate communally, etc. But this provision is draconian in that it invades the realm of our conscience."
After noting the church's concerns regarding the recent health-care mandate and its violation of conscience, Harrison also urged prayers on behalf of President Obama, concluding, "I stand at an altar regularly to administer the Sacrament. In the prayers of the church, I pray regularly for the president and the well-being of the nation. … Luther bids us in the Catechism to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way."
To read Harrison's statement and watch videos of the LCMS president speaking before the House committee, click here.
To read a related Reporter story, click here.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Feb. 16, 2012